Notable Native: Tricia Martinez

By Metro Reporter

Women have the ability to create the most change in their communities, according to Tricia Martinez, founder and CEO of SHIFT, a web and mobile platform that allows users to send money to women in third-world countries.

Since Martinez started college, she was concerned about poverty in third-world countries and how she could help reduce it. When she learned through her research the important role women play in shaping their communities, she realized she needed to put money in the hands of women in poorer countries, which led her to founding her mobile platform SHIFT.  

Before she founded SHIFT, Martinez received her bachelor’s degree in public policy at DePaul University and her master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago. She also worked for various tech startups in the city focused on social entrepreneurship.  

The Chronicle spoke with Martinez about poverty, being a global citizen and how empowering women can  build  strong communities. 

THE CHRONICLE: How did you transition into the tech startup industry from public policy? 

TRICIA MARTINEZ: I got into [public] policy because I thought the best way to help people was by creating new policies, but I was turned off by how the public sector works because it’s so slow to change because there’s a lack of innovation. I started taking classes at Booth, U of C’s business school, and I discovered social entrepreneurship. I always saw myself as a business-oriented person, and putting social impact and business together [became] my new passion.

CC: What lead to the founding of SHIFT? 

When I was at U of C , I became really excited about the concept of innovating financial services because I have always believed in order for someone’s life to change, they need access to money. Having capital is the number one priority to alleviate any type of poverty. In one of my classes I learned about unconditional cash transfers—giving cash to individuals with no strings attached and allowing them to use it for whatever they need to improve their lives rather than giving them aid like food or healthcare services. Research indicates that it’s extremely effective. None of it’s wasted and all these positive outcomes come from it. This is a proven model. There is so much data indicating how effective it is. That’s really when the idea [for SHIFT] began. 

CC: Why does your company focus solely on investing in women? 

Women are the ones that can create the most impact. Studies indicate that when you invest in a woman, you are essentially investing in her community. In developing communities, women are the ones spending their money on their children and their businesses. Often you see husbands and men putting [money] toward the wrong things.

CC: What stage is SHIFT in now? 

We finished a pilot program testing money transfers with the company’s platform in Uganda. We set up mobile money accounts for 100 Ugandans and tested SHIFT’s platform to find out how to help the women the most. Now that we’ve tested the platform and know that it works, we can start raising funds to expand the company by bringing the platform to other countries. 

CC: What was the response of the women in Uganda? 

They were so appreciative and they kept telling me, “You saved my life.” It was $100—in the U.S. that’s like pocket change. Thinking about the $200 we gave to each woman for the rest of her life, you can change someone’s life. How crazy is that? 

CC: Where do you see SHIFT in 10 years? 

In 10 years, I would like us to be in every single country where there is a woman in extreme poverty. I hope we are everywhere and that cash transfers have the potential to be in the hands of every woman that needs it.